Pine Processionary Caterpillars
The title may sound a little dramatic even OTT, but in truth these cute and harmless-looking caterpillars pose a real danger to people and pets.
Since moving to Portugal I have developed an unexplained desire to learn more about the insects I find in our garden. I like, no NEED, to know are they friend or foe!
When we first arrived in Portugal we noticed our neighbour had several cocoon like nests in his pine trees. We were soon to discover they were home to hundreds of caterpillars which when they descended from the nest, marched nose-to-tail in a procession along our garden wall until they disappeared into the soft soil. We were told they were called Pine Processioanry Caterpillars but little did we know then, how dangerous they were!
Please read on and you will understand why coming into contact with pine processionary caterpillars may have such terrible consequences.
Where are they found?
Pine processionary caterpillars are found in Southern Europe, anywhere there are pine trees.
The caterpillars live in silken spun cocoon nests attached to branches in the pine tree. These cocoons can accommodate hundreds of
caterpillars which once developed will descend from the nest in late winter/early spring. On leaving the nest they proceed nose-to-tail (like a procession) as they go in search of soft soil in which to burrow and pupate, before changing into harmless moths.
So why are they so dangerous?
The adult caterpillar is approximately 3cm long and covered in tiny brittle barbed hairs which are constantly being shed.
Because their hairs are airborne they may inadvertently be ingested simply by picking the caterpillar up, stepping on it or attempting to move them out-of-the-way.
Symptoms and what to do
The hairs, when they come into contact with the skin, can cause severe skin irritations and if ingested possibly even cause Anaphylaxic shock. If you do come into contact with these caterpillars and you develop an itchy rash, seek medical advice.
Danger to humans is mainly if you are allergic and/or asthmatic and it is recommended that inhalers are always close to hand and always have antihistamines in stock (available in Chemists without a prescription). Itchy rashes and skin rashes are common if humans come into contact with the caterpillars. Take an antihistamine tablet i.e. Piriton, Claritin, Citizirine 10mg etc. immediately. Again, drink plenty of orange juice if you are affected and keep all windows and doors closed as much as possible if the trees are close by your home.
Dogs and Cats
When dogs and cats get to close to the caterpillars they may pick up hairs in their paws which they then lick, and therefore ingest with potentially catastrophic consequences including death. The symptoms of ingestion may include swelling, vomiting and excessive drooling. Check for small white spots on the tongue and in the mouth. If dogs or cats eat these caterpillars the consequences can be fatal so if your pets come into contact with processionary caterpillars do seek veterinary advice immediately.
You need to contact your Vet urgently. I have been advised you can help by always having in stock Predisolene tablets – In Portugal these are called Lepicortinolo Prednisolona available from Chemists in Portugal without a prescription (cost for packet of 60 – 20mg strength approx. 7 euros) – these range in strength from 5mg to 20mg – an immediate tablet of 20mg is recommended followed by fresh orange juice syringed down your pets throat (or orange Vit C tablets squashed with water). Also give your pet an antihistamine tablet immediately.
The vet will give your pet an antibiotic and may put them on a saline drip depending on the severity. In some cases partial amputation of the tongue is the only course of action.
Finally a few useful tips
Do not attempt to remove the nests as hairs may be released which may then come into contact with the skin or even ingested.
Do not burn the nests as hairs may be released into the air.
Do not attempt to move a procession of caterpillars as this will spread their hairs.
Do not allow dogs and cats near the nests or caterpillar Curiosity killed the cat.
Do contact your local Camara (local council) to see what their policy is regarding removal of nests, especially if they are in an urbanisation
If you do not have any luck with your local Camara I have been advised the treatment to get rid of the caterpillars/moths is Pheramone traps, glue bands, insecticidal spray, etc which you can obtain from Biosani.
My thanks to Paws2Claws Pet Boarding who has shared much of the above information and the great pictures
Have you seen these caterpillars?
Please share any information or actual personal experiences!